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October 1, 2014

URL 101: Structuring Links for Maximum SEO Impact

When you’re diving into a new site design, or a full-scale redesign, URL structure should be one of the first considerations. Many developers will tell you that search engines can crawl any URL structure, and that the naming formats therefore don’t matter much. That is unequivocally not the case. SEO is all about landing stellar rankings for your main keywords, and of course the all-mighty ROI. And URLs play a major role.

So how do you decide what your URLs should look like with both development and SEO principles in mind? The good news is the process is far more simplistic than you may fear. Follow these basic guidelines, and you’ll determine the perfect URL structure for your business.

The Conflict of Development vs. SEO Needs

Because business owners often trust their developers to know what’s best for technical items like URL structure, SEO considerations are not included. While most SEO principles meet or exceed technical parameters, the reverse isn’t true. SEO, therefore, ought to be your guiding principal for URLs.

Development needs tell us this about URLs: They should support a highly crawlable site, and they should support a fast loading page as well. SEO agrees, but also necessitates rankings and ROI.

Yes, there is a way to make both sides happy. Cater to SEO needs, and you’ll have a win-win.

How to Make Your URLs SEO-Friendly

Here are the most important elements to URLs from the perspective of great SEO:

1) Simplicity: Your URL structure needs to be straightforward and consistent. If you have duplicate content, use specified canonical URLs. Avoid confusing redirects like they were a virus.

2) Readable: Never use codes, numeric formats, or nonsensical words. Punctuation marks are also not advised. If a human being can’t clearly read what your URLs express, a search engine won’t either.

3) Leverage Your Most Important Pages: With any given site, there are normally pages that are most relevant to searches (like homepages, site maps, and landing pages), and those that shouldn’t be crawled. Since all URLs are not created equally, make sure you conceal those that you don’t want to be seen, and make highly simple and readable URLs for those that are most important.

The Three Most Important Tips for Creating URLs with Great SEO

Now that you know the basic foundation, here are the most critical steps to achieving these goals:

1) Merge www and non-www URLs: In most websites, there will be URLs that start with www, and those that don’t. How you integrate these two seamlessly is integral to your overall SEO. Why? It’s all about backlinks. If you have some pointing to one version of your site, and some pointing to another, they may not be considered one cohesive site, and much of your SEO efforts will be in vain.

Your first step is to use 301 redirects to point one site to the other. Which you choose is a personal decision; the important part here is to merge the sites and remain consistent, or you risk confusing the search engines.

Redirects aren’t always realistic. In these cases, you can also access Google’s webmaster tools and set your selected domain. The navigation path inside the tools is Configuration / Settings / Preferred Domain. Bear in mind this only works for Google, and it’s restricted to root domains. If you host a site on Blogspot, you can’t merge www and non-www versions via this method. Redirects are the only option.

2) Sitemaps are Your Friends: Seriously, have a dynamic XML sitemap. It is crucial for your SEO success. It’s fine to have an HTML sitemap too, but understand these are for two entirely different purposes. Search engines read XML maps, while human beings access HTML versions. If you have only one, it needs to be XML.

XML sitemaps serve two functions: They lead search engine to your site’s pages, and they provide a reference to search engines when they’re identifying canonical URLs on your site. Both are super important to your SEO.

Confused by the canonical reference? Just think of it as a “preferred” URL for search engines. This is most appropriate for duplicate content; you need to vector the bots to the page you want them to crawl. If duplicates are not resolved in this fashion, your SEO takes a hit.

So when you’re creating your XML sitemap, include only the URLs you want search engines to crawl. It’s not necessary for the map to be comprehensive; just include everything that’s important to you.

3) Formatting is Crucial: Here is the reason you’re likely reading this article; what’s the best way to structure a URL?

Many content management systems default to a less than optimal format, like www.yoursite.com/p=4349. This is a horrible way to structure your URLs. Instead, format them this way: www.yoursite.com/article-topic.

The main reason this is so important centers around keywords. The first example will indeed be crawled, but the second example gives search engines a strong clue about the content’s subject. This bodes well for your results. Because it’s more user-friendly to use actual words, it’s more SEO-friendly too.

You probably know already that hyphens are preferred over underscores to separate words. Why? Because Google views words with underscores as one entire word. ‘Your_Article_Name’ is actually read as YourArticleName, whereas ‘your-article-name’ reads as it should.

By following these basic rules in the formation of your site’s URLs, you’ll have a foundation that supports users and search engines, no matter how much your site expands. Getting this right when you launch is crucial; it can take weeks and weeks to restructure your URLs to please Google post-launch. If you’ve already launched with some URL snafus, that’s OK – better late than never. Make your fixes now and the damage will undo itself in time.

What other elements of URL structure are you curious about?


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Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.

28 Responses to “URL 101: Structuring Links for Maximum SEO Impact

    avatar Param Khiva says:

    Thank You For Sharing these useful tips. Which URL is good for SEO, with WWW or without WWW?

    avatar Tom Nguyen says:

    I prefer the www, but it doesn’t matter. You just need to find one and stick with it. You can redirect www to no www URLs and vice versa. That way, Google won’t think you have two duplicate websites.

    avatar Tina Courtney says:

    Tom is spot on, Param. Whether you choose WWW or not, consistency is what counts 🙂

    avatar Gaurav Jain says:

    Hello Tina

    I am redesigning my complete site url structure and our website is very big. I need some suggestions from you.

    We have a job site and jobs by categories not much important as keyword job search.

    Would you suggest I place all keywords under category structure?

    For example (Note we have all jobs for fresher only so fresher is most imp keyword for us)

    We have a job for Java fresher professional then i am doing following structure

    by keyword only

    site.com/java-fresher-jobs/

    by keyword and city (Delhi is city)

    site.com/java-fresher-jobs-delhi/

    likewise every keyword will have multiple cities and so all will follow this structure

    Do you think this is good structure?

    i am not considering category jobs as priority

    Also I was most considered about no-follow to pages which not exists and low quality content so what i did

    I place nofollow if job not exists and also if a keyword have less than 2 jobs then will also not indexed

    Do you think this is good idea to keep quality less pages? as my site will have less pages but will have quality pages

    I need your suggestion for best url structure

    avatar Tina Courtney says:

    Hi there! Your overall strategy is sound for sure. Get as many keywords as you can in the category structure without making it sound like you’re simply catering to search engines. And don’t hold on to pages without any quality or value – quantity is not what is important here, it really is content and quality 🙂

    avatar Yogesh says:

    These all affect word press sites too ?

    avatar Tina Courtney says:

    Yes indeed! WordPress defaults to URL structure that is not at all SEO friendly, so it’s important to update that structure as you build your site.

    Nice article Tina, I am also agree with you because without merging www and non-www Google crawler counts our website url two times as well as there is also a fear of duplicate content on same site as well our seo efforts divided in to two domains – www and non-www.

    Thank you for the great information. We use a third party E-Commerce site that list our products on a pre made template. We have been working closely with them to help optimize the url’s that is given to a product automatically by the system. By using some of the techniques outlined above we have been able to make our site a lot more search engine friendly and thus improved our serp rankings.

    avatar RogerB says:

    Excellent post. I wish we had this information before we had launched a couple of years ago. Learnt this the hard way 🙂

    Also thanks for tip on canonical URLs.

    avatar Naba Now says:

    Getting excited about reading more. Great blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

    avatar Kim says:

    Very informative and helpful post Tina.. Thanks for sharing!!

    avatar Jey Ganesh says:

    Thanks for sharing this useful information. This will be very helpful to increase website traffic for blogs

    Great informatiom on URL structure. If we take it to the next level, for SEO purposes, does Google prefer sub directories or subdomains.

    Thanks

    Jeff

    I prefer to use www when we need to redirect from one to another, but it’s not really matter, cause it’s just to make your url on search result look better.

    avatar Ritesh Reet says:

    Good article, will be helpful when you are about to launch a new website.

    avatar Andy says:

    good infomtions site

    avatar Dr. Robert says:

    Good article and how true that one or the other versions ( with either www or non-www ) needs to be clearly set otherwise duplicate content issues will arise. In Apache a 301 redirect to the htaccess is a must… rel=canonical will only default client side not server side.
    Additionally keep your URL(s) simple to the basics:
    http://seo-now.page.tl/need-an-emarketing-team.htm
    – not –
    http://seo-now.page.tl/2014/10/06/need-an-emarketing-team.htm
    – or –
    http://seo-now.page.tl/789876546783456747
    As long as the customer or client can remember the article and where they read it they can pull it together.
    The Google point is to be user friendly which in turn is also search engine friendly.
    ( Keep – It – Simple )

    Thanks for sharing great article Tina.

    Hi Tina, sorry if this is what Gaurav was asking and you already answered above — for some reason the whole category/directory thing can make one’s (my) head spin.

    Do you have any opinion on which of these site structures is superior, all things being equal?:

    1. examplesite.gov.co.biz/keyword1-category/keyword2-page-article-etc

    2. examplesite.gov.co.biz/keyword1-keyword2-page-article-etc

    We’ve been having pretty good success ditching the category directory all together and just going with the pages located immediately following the domain. Of course, for years (even through all the changes that have happened) I’ve heard that search engines prefer sites to have a rigid hierarchial structure.

    Any opinion on if one method of site organization is better than the other most of the time? Thanks! And helpful article.

    avatar Owen says:

    Hi Tina

    thanks for the article

    Can you confirm that keyword rich urls are now no longer an advantage?

    For example the company bagel king in new york might have the url http://www.bagelking.com. Is this now as good key word rich URL such as http://www.newyorkbaker.com?

    Does google prefer key word rich urls or just company names as such.

    thanks in advance

    regards

    oWen

    Hi Tina,

    A good plugin for WordPress users is the Yoast SEO plugin to help in creating good urls and is great for redirecting 301s if changing the structure too. It is just a good simple way of making things easier while making changes 🙂

    avatar maria says:

    Brilliant post Tina- I know that here in the UK especially, SEO perhaps isn’t as big as it is in the US which is why there are still so many developers who design a website only to look good but without SEO in mind from day one, it doesn’t matter how good the visuals, it will struggle in ranking

    avatar Shanjei says:

    Great post. I never thought about improving my URLs.. I’ll do it from now with those guidelines. And I really need to add a sitemap. Yes I don’t even have one now.. Thanks for the tip.. going for a XML one now.

    Good And Useful Article From My Site.I like it very very much.

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